How to support diversity in the workplace

Diane Chilangwa Farmer shares her ideas for encouraging greater equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Designing a truly effective equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy is no easy task. Here are some ideas for incorporating and managing EDI in the workplace.

Get leadership on board
As with any initiative, in order to develop policies and practices to promote EDI, it’s essential to achieve leadership buy-in from the start. 

A recent update of the Charity Governance Code in 2020 replaced the Diversity Principle with a new EDI Principle. This recommends that charities boards of trustees consider:

  • Why EDI is important for their charity
  • Set context-specific realistic plans and targets
  • Monitor performance against those targets
  • Publish information on progress and conclusions

Only by ensuring that your Board and senior management team take action, leading by example to demonstrate their commitment to change, will sustainable improvements in EDI, with full staff support, be achieved.

So get leadership on board – but invite all employees to the table.


Gather your data

Creating an environment in which all employees can constructively participate ensures diversity of thought. Hearing about challenges, struggles and different realities first hand enriches debate. It also raises awareness for employees who have a limited understanding or commitment to diversity. 

Baseline studies or audits that include anonymous staff survey questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, and focus group discussions produce crucial, relevant data. This will enable organisations to better understand their EDI strengths, limitations and needs. 

This will also aid a better understanding of the structural, systemic and behavioural attitudes of all levels of staff that need addressing. 

Address home-work challenges

The pandemic has shone a light on less visible forms of diversity, such as employees’ living conditions. This can impact on home working, for example:

  • Inadequate space for remote working 
  • Limited capacity to isolate safely 
  • Juggling working whilst caring for children and elders

According to a 2020 McKinsey report, the pandemic has intensified challenges that women in particular already face within the workplace. 

Studies show that black and other ethnic minority women, LGBTQ+ and women with disabilities are facing distinct challenges, such as:

  • Anxiety over layoffs or furlough
  • Childcare and/or home-schooling responsibilities
  • Financial insecurity
  • Burnout
  • The knock-on effect of the physical and mental health of loved ones

Hence the need to tackle this issue with an intersectional ‘lens’. Intersectional analysis means understanding how different aspects of a person’s identity combine to create different modes of discrimination. People’s identities and social positions are shaped by multiple factors. It means looking at how a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, age, class, sexuality orientation, religion or belief, disability etc contribute towards specific experiences and perspectives. 

Intersectional analysis can help us understand how and why women, ethnic minorities and other marginalised people experience challenges – not only due to their gender, but to their race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and other aspects of their identity. This approach provides a more profound awareness of how and when employees require support. 

Home working is here to stay, so accommodating different ways of when, how and where people work – and even what projects they are assigned – is vital.

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

Cultures produce mindsets, stereotypes, and assumptions about different people. This in turn produces discriminatory and exclusionary bias that can be invisible, unconscious, and often unintentional. 

To overcome bias and achieve meaningful EDI in the workplace, we need to uproot these discriminatory assumptions and structures at the very deepest level. 

Staff and trustees should be encouraged to reflect on their ideas and feelings, and examine the organisations’ culture and practices. What are the stereotypes and assumptions of different social groups and categories? In practice, this means expanding approaches to recruitment and selection, by seeking out a diverse range of people, not just by looking for qualities and backgrounds similar to those already in place. This approach may initially seem uncomfortable, but is an important step in creating a more diverse workforce.

Additionally, building a workplace where people feel included, where they are welcome and able to bring their entire selves to work and express their opinions, creates an environment where everyone can grow and thrive. 

With the vast majority of employees still working remotely, it’s vital that organisations create an environment where everyone shares a sense of belonging and feels respected and included. Individuals should be supported to make the cultural changes needed to create long term, sustainable diversity and inclusion. By supporting people holistically, and working together, we can create healthier organisations from an EDI perspective.


Sarah Burrell

About Diane Chilangwa Farmer

Diane Chilangwa Farmer is a founding partner of PDC Professional Diversity Consultants (PDC). Her work and research focus on the challenges and benefits of living and working in a diverse society. Her research has centred on ensuring that historically disadvantaged individuals are given the opportunity to tell their story in a way that reflects their views of reality – be it within the workplace, their communities and/or educational environment.

Diane holds a MSc in Gender, Politics and Culture from Birkbeck, University of London, a MSc in NGO Management from Cass Business School and a PhD in Gender from the LSE’s Department of Gender Studies. She is also a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management’s Gender, Leadership and Inclusion Centre; a Trustee of Concern Worldwide UK and a Centre Board member for Maggie’s at The Royal Marsden Hospital, Sutton.

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